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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Dec. 28) - One surfer drowned off Tahiti and another disappeared off Moorea as heavy swells prevailed throughout French Polynesia following the passage of tropical depression Judy in the southernmost Austral Islands.

During the early stages of the tropical depression, violent winds and heavy swells damaged or destroyed several homes on the Tuamotu atoll of Anaa during the early morning of December 23. There were no injuries or loss of life.

The surfing death occurred on December 23 off the coast of Orofara on Tahiti’s north coast. The victim was a young surfer from Huahine in the Leeward Islands who was vacationing on Tahiti. He apparently drowned after his head hit a rock.

On Christmas day, a young man was surfing in the pass through the coral reef leading into Opunohu Bay when he disappeared. Divers were sent to look for him. A French Air Force search and rescue plane flew over the area between 11am and 2pm Sunday, but found no trace of the surfer.

The strong swells of the past week attracted surfers throughout French Polynesia. Some went to areas noted for being dangerous despite warnings from the French High Commissioner’s office in Papeéte for all surfers to use prudence.

On the day before Christmas a French Polynesia government delegation led by Archipelago Development Minister Louis Frébault visited the damaged atoll of Anaa. The 90 km (34 mile) atoll 3,771 hectares (9,318 acres) in size is located 437 km (271 miles) east of Tahiti.

The tropical storm damaged or destroyed 10 homes in the village of Tukuhora.

"The population that lived through the cyclone of February 1983 remains traumatized and jumps at the slightest gust of wind," said Aimée Williams, the atoll’s deputy mayor.

Upon arriving from Tahiti, Frébault announced that French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse had set up a disaster relief fund of 200 million French Pacific francs (US$2.3 million). However, after inspecting the storm’s damage, Frébault said the fund could be doubled.

He was accompanied to Anaa by Patrick Bordel, head of the government’s Outer Islands Mutual Aid Fund.

Frébault said money would be provided during the next Council of Ministers meeting for any atoll experiencing damage from tropical storm Judy. That will allow residents to repair their damaged homes, he said.

Victor Burns, Mayor Willams’ assistant on Anaa, provided a list of damaged facilities on the atoll. That included two destroyed homes, seven 80 percent destroyed homes, three pulverized bungalows, two destroyed garages and two destroyed copra-drying areas. Anaa is the third largest copra-producing atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

"At 2:30 Thursday morning, the wind and the swell that were from the west, passed to the southwest and waves in the lagoon broke on my house, which started to shake and then collapsed," said Tane Topia, 50, who lives in the Tokerau area. "I was really afraid."

Marie-Marthe Leblond, a French woman, who has been posted on Anaa as the village nurse since March 2003, recalled what had happened. "At sunset on Wednesday evening (December 22), the sky had an unusual, odd luminosity. I was afraid there were injured persons, but fortunately that was not the case."

The people of Anaa have experience cyclones on several occasions, the most dramatic ones occurring in 1878 and 1906. Anaa was destroyed in a few hours during the 1906 cyclone. Men, women and children and all vegetation were swept away, either into the lagoon or swept out to sea with the strong current. The death toll was 95 people.

Cyclone Orama struck Anaa in 1983, destroying 95 percent of the village of Tukuhora. The village was rebuilt, but in a more protected area.

December 29, 2004


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